STAY AND TOUCH
When it comes to tacos al pastor, it’s all in the family business for Mario Martinez. He’s been making them on 63rd street since 2003, and going back to the 80’s as far as his catering of them. He’s a man who’s always done it the only way he knows how, and that would be the way he learned back home in Mexico City where his sister still runs an al pastor stall at a local flea market.
Mario's al pastor instantly transported me back to eating on the streets of Mexico City. What makes it great? The meat never touches a griddle. It's expertly sliced off the spinning trompo onto an awaiting tortilla. This partly explains why the slices are so plump, instead of desiccated. You also get to appreciate the complexity of the red-chili stained marinade, which is just slightly spicy. And finally, each bite leaves a flavor reminiscent of salty cured bacon in the background, while juicy slices of pineapple provide a fresh counterpoint. Truly fantastic stuff. When I dream of al pastor (which happens), this is basically what I want.
Mario's Tacos, 4540 W. 63rd St., 773-582-8226, www.tacosmarios.menu
According to some info dug up by Rob Lopata for the Chicago Tribune, most al pastor places in Chicago use reconstructed gyro cones. People like owner Mario Martinez say the city's natural gas and electricity lines don't provide enough heat, which doesn't allow for proper charring. Mario, who's family also owns two popular al pastor spots in Mexico City, took it into his own hands. They use a strong gas flame, and if you catch them at the right time when the thinly shaved meat is going from cone to tortilla, you're going to get some of the best al pastor in the city. You can try it the traditional way in a taco or enjoy a plate of it in a popular dish served throughout Mexico.
"Electric is no good. No one in Mexico uses electric," said Mario Martinez, owner of Tacos Mario's in West Lawn. His family owns two restaurants in Mexico City. "It doesn't cook the meat properly, won't char it."